Ben Vereen as Billy Flynn in Vegas Chicago? Chita & Marcia Are In, Starting March 3

News   Ben Vereen as Billy Flynn in Vegas Chicago? Chita & Marcia Are In, Starting March 3
 
The Las Vegas Sun reports Ben Vereen is to play opposite Chita Rivera in the six-month Las Vegas stand of Chicago beginning March 3, but as of Jan. 21 the actor hadn't signed with producers Barry and Fran Weissler, according to a spokesperson in Nevada.

The Las Vegas Sun reports Ben Vereen is to play opposite Chita Rivera in the six-month Las Vegas stand of Chicago beginning March 3, but as of Jan. 21 the actor hadn't signed with producers Barry and Fran Weissler, according to a spokesperson in Nevada.

Vereen, star of Bob Fosse's Pippin and "All That Jazz," would play the role of shyster Billy Flynn if he goes into the hit musical revival.

Dave Kirvin, publicist for the new Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Vegas, told Playbill On-Line Vereen had "been mentioned," but nothing had been sealed. Meanwhile, he said Rivera will limber-up for the Vegas run in Toronto Feb. 2-14, playing Roxie Hart (not Velma Kelly, the Chicago role she created in 1975). The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto was advertising Rivera and selling tickets using her name Jan. 21.

Marcia Lewis, the revival's original Matron Mama Morton, will leave the Broadway production Jan. 24 to join the Toronto-bound "Velma" company.

The slightly re-cast "Velma" touring company (including Lewis) is expected to move from Toronto to the 1,750-seat Vegas Mandalay. The new hotel-casino is scheduled to open March 2. Chicago begins performances a day later, March 3, with an official opening date to be announced later.

In the meantime, the "Roxie" national tour is scheduled to play Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 22-March 14.

Kirvin said Mandalay's Chicago is a rare occasion for Vegas: Although uncut national tours such as Stomp have played the desert resort town, sit-down stagings of musicals are usually trimmed-down, tourist-and-gambler-friendly productions, like the (now-closed) 90 minute Starlight Express at the Hilton, or in-house casino versions of classic musical comedies.

He promised Chicago would be the full Broadway revival production. The Mandalay venue offers table seating and traditional theatre seating and is built, for future productions, for "major" shows, Kirvin said.

The Weisslers, producers of the Broadway Chicago and its spinoff tours, will produce the Vegas stand in association with Warren Trepp and Mandalay Bay.

For ticket information, call (702) 474-4000 or (877) 632-7400. The top ticket price at Mandalay Bay is $82.50.

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Rivera, who turns 66 Jan. 23, is expected to continue in the Vegas stand, at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, through Aug. 28. Director Walter Bobbie's minimalist staging (in black cocktail dresses and slinky slacks, shirts and tuxes) is choreographed by Ann Reinking "in the style of" original director-choreographer Bob Fosse.

In recent weeks, names as big as Jerry Lewis (for the role of Billy Flynn) had been rumored, and there was chatter in the wings that Ute Lemper may take her London and current Broadway Velma west to Glitter Gulch. But those close to the Broadway production say Lemper returns -- and stays - in the Broadway Chicago Jan. 26 (following a rest of two weeks after an illness).

It was also not immediately clear if Roxie might now be handed the show's opening number, "All That Jazz," which Velma has traditionally sung, and which is something of a signature for steely, sleek Rivera.

Rivera's in-process one-woman show, backed up by "boy" dancers, is called Chita and All That Jazz. It had a summer 1998 tryout in Atlantic City and is expected to resurface in fall 1999. Fred Ebb is a consultant.

The role of Roxie Hart, one of a gaggle of murderesses in the cynical musical comedy, was originated by Gwen Verdon in 1975.

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The now-legendary Rivera made her splash as the original Anita in West Side Story in 1957-58 and over the next four decades appeared in Broadway musical hits and beloved flops, including Bye Bye Birdie, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bajour, Merlin, Bring Back Birdie, The Rink, as well as in numerous club acts and tours (Can-Can, for example).

Not even a taxicab accident, which required having pins put in her famous legs, could stop Rivera from dancing across a Broadway stage.

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The smash $3 million Broadway revival of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical has been a hot ticket since its opening. The production began as a four-performance concert staging in May 1996 in City Center's "Encores!" series devoted to rarely-heard musical scores. A London company opened Nov. 18, 1997 at the Adelphi Theatre. Joel Grey, the Broadway revival Amos, recreated the role in London Aug. 17-Nov. 7, 1998.

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